World Relief is closing five offices across the United States and laying off more than 140 staff members as a result of President Donald Trump’s executive order to decrease the potential number of refugees admitted to the U.S. in 2017, the organization said in a Feb. 15 press release.
Refugee resettlement offices in Boise, Idaho; Columbus, Ohio; Miami, Fla.; Nashville, Tenn.; and Glen Burnie, Md., will cease operations.
One of North Carolina’s two offices, World Relief High Point, laid off five members of its refugee resettlement team Feb. 17, High Point Enterprise reported.
Federal judges blocked the White House from enforcing parts of the controversial executive order, including a 120-day suspension of the refugee resettlements and a 90-day halt on immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries. However, the courts have not addressed the cap on refugee admissions, Matthew Soerens, World Relief’s director of church mobilization, told The Tennessean.
According to the U.S. State Department’s Refugee Processing Center, the U.S. has already accepted more than 34,000 refugees for fiscal year 2017. Under Trump’s order, fewer than 16,000 refugees can enter the country in the remaining time period.
Because World Relief receives federal funding based on the number of refugees they serve, layoffs and closings became necessary, although the stopgap measures only partially relieve the budget deficit.
Records show the number of refugees coming into the United States has been dropping in the months before Trump became president. Since October 2016, the number of refugees was just under 10,000. That number dropped below 7,000 in January.
World Relief Durham does not anticipate closing but may be forced to downsize if the office does not receive additional funding from churches and donors.
Adam Clark, office director for World Relief Durham, said his branch of the agency faces a unique challenge.
“The Triangle [Raleigh-Durham area] has the highest number of volunteers that want to work with refugees in all of the World Relief network,” Clark told the Biblical Recorder. “Right in the midst of that, we now have fewer refugees to serve than ever and fewer resources to be a bridge organization.”
In the last fiscal year, 618 new volunteers began serving with World Relief Durham. More than 250 churches have partnered with the branch since it opened in 2008.
Now, the lack of administrative funds will make it difficult to facilitate connections between churches and refugees.
The Summit Church in Durham is one of those churches. Todd Unzicker, pastor of missions at The Summit Church, said a volunteer training scheduled for Feb. 18 is at capacity, with 300 expected to attend.
World Relief Durham’s primary concern, Clark said, continues to be the individuals and refugee families they serve.
The cap on refugee admissions not only affects people waiting to enter the U.S., but also those who are already in the country.
“As we scale back, the refugees who are already here will have fewer resources that they can access,” Clark said. “There are less resources we can provide to them, and they’re also being separated from their families. It’s really heavy.”
Zac Lyons, consultant for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina’s Office of Great Commission Partnerships, said in a statement to the Recorder, “Whether our borders are open or closed, God is still sovereign, the task great, and our responsibility the same – that is the Great Commission and love of neighbor. God has already brought many unreached peoples within arm's reach of our churches.
“Will we, as the people of God, obey Christ and share our lives and the gospel with the nations who are our neighbors? No matter what our government does regarding refugees and other immigrants, we as Kingdom citizens must be obedient to the biblical mandate to love the foreigner in our communities.”
To learn more or give to World Relief, visit worldrelief.org/welcome.